A golden state of mind

Connected by Community with Brightland's Aishwarya Iyer

Investing in rich relationships with people and suppliers yields a radiant future for the modern olive oil company.

The first time I met Aishwarya Iver in person, she had barely stepped off a plane arriving from Los Angeles before making her way into my dining room in Brooklyn.

It was a crisp October evening in 2018, where days went dark at 5 pm and most New Yorkers sought refuge for any semblance of warmth that could carry them through the bittersweet transition into the colder months. As she sat across from me before starting an interview for my agency's podcast, Slow Stories, I quickly recognized that the self-made founder innately carries this quality of warmth—dispelling an air of authenticity that is a rare find in an often transactional business landscape. After nearly six months of digital familiarity, my connection with Aishwarya was brought full circle in that very moment (you can listen to the episode here), and it continues to strengthen online and offline; across state lines, industries, and platforms.

Before speaking with her once again for this piece, I revisited the research listed on Brightland's website used to build the foundation of the brand. A fusion of industry data and personal culinary discovery have laid the foundation for the one-year-old small business to go global. That much is clear, but what comes next for Brightland is celebrating those who have championed the brand since day one, and the connections that are being forged as a result—all of which are breathing new life into a tiring industry. This is the story I'm interested in today.

Brightland is a modern olive oil company based in Los Angeles that is painstakingly committed to clean production while also encouraging living in a "golden state." This manifesto encompasses everything from encouraging more creative curiosity and analog moments, to holistic, conscious living. “The entire brand thesis is about enjoying and celebrating simple everyday moments,” Aishwarya remarks during our conversation. “So, it's about being at home and enjoying that space that's yours, rather than always looking to the outside.” Though this internal, self-reflective measure didn't happen for Aishwarya overnight—in fact, her global upbringing has been a critical pillar in shaping her point of view.

Aishwarya Iyer, Founder of Brightland

Born in Chennai, India, Aishwarya moved to the United States as an infant. Her family first landed in Amherst, following a brief stint in Chicago, and ultimately settling in Houston where she spent a good portion of her youth. Throughout her childhood, home-cooked meals and gathering around the table served as the continuous thread within Aishwarya's nomadic upbringing, and she attributes these experiences as something she's returned to when building the brand. Moreover, the very places that shaped Aishwarya's life would ultimately become the backdrop to the people she would connect (and reconnect) with to inspire Brightland's DNA. She builds on this theme of connection by sharing an important anecdote about reconnecting with a high school friend who she derived inspiration from in those early days, “It was one of my friends from high school, actually,” Aishwarya reflects. “She lived in Austin (and now she lives in New York City), but when she was living there, I spent a week with her in March of 2017 and talked through Brightland with her quite a bit. She is just someone I really look up to. I remember when I was thinking through: Who is my customer? What are they like? What did they like? I wrote her name down and put her picture there. Her photo was sort of the centerpiece example of Brightland's early customer.”

While she is quick to keep precise details around the identity of her friend under wraps, Aishwarya instead fills in the gaps with a resolute statement: "I don't think it was one person. It was so many people — people at the UC Davis Olive Center; it was different farms we were selecting between; it was our branding company. I don't think I can really nail it down." It's clear at that moment that the art of connection permeates every part of Aishwarya's entrepreneurial process, and the founder quietly steers the conversation in a direction that aligns more congruently with Brightland’s mission: the importance of connecting with your past just as much as your present to create a better future.

"I remember when I was thinking through: Who is my customer? What are they like? What did they like? I wrote her name down and put her picture there."

Perhaps that's the lesson here. Past familial traditions may have paved the way for Brightland's product, but it's the present action of reconnecting with those individuals that ultimately enabled Brightland to transcend the expectations of a lifestyle brand by inspiring substantive conversation and accountability for modern consumers to get back to the basics. It's a tall order to fill, especially given the brand's innate digital origins, which adds a nuanced element to our conversation. I ask her how she views connection in relation to our social-media-obsessed world, particularly since it has become an essential cornerstone for modern brands to survive. “I love the human connection. I love that it's tactile and analog,” she sighs. “I don't want to see human connection lost in the food industry. I don't want technology to overtake really beautiful tactile and analog experience — I want technology to add to it.”

Brightland's Alive and Awake Olive Oils, $37 each


"I don't want technology to overtake really beautiful tactile and analog experience — I want technology to add to it."

As she responds, I quickly stop myself from reaching for my phone, and instead, glance across the room to peer into my kitchen. There, a bottle of Brightland's beloved flavor, AWAKE, is proudly displayed. On Brightland's site, I later read that the smoke point of this oil is 410 degrees along with a written encouragement not to "shy away from the heat required of certain dishes." I realize that Brightland is turning up the heat in many ways with this rallying cry to reclaim the space to taste food—and live life—fully.

In this day and age, there's an aspect of transience that makes us quick to build brands, plan our exits, and build our professional acclaim, but Aishwarya's story shows us that remaining connected to our mission opens us up to connect with those who can shape the businesses we're building in new and enduring ways. “This seems like a good place to stop,” I tell her as we reach the final point of our conversation. What follows is an exchange of pleasantries and an unspoken understanding that while this interview may be coming to an end, Aishwarya is just getting started.

Something to think about:

What role have connections played in your professional life?

-Rachel Schwartzmann

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